After going 0-3 in 2013, as a Dan Henderson fan, I had to wonder, what the hell do you think you’re doing challenging a 32-year old Shogun Rua at 43 years of age and in his home country of Brazil of all places?
The problem about fighting at an age considered well past one’s prime is that as much as an athlete thinks he’s in marvelous shape, it’s really his pride and will that keeps him going. No matter how much training or simulated fights one undertakes there’s nothing like the real thing when the leg kicks are meant to render your legs dead and the punches are designed to knock you out ‘til next week and maybe for the rest of your career.
Even worse, it’s five rounds of fighting in UFC Fight Night in Natal, Brazil.
I was ready to see Hendo get knocked out by a vengeful Rua and call it quits to what is for sure a Hall-of-Fame career. You know, an athlete who hung around way too long.
What I didn’t remember or even factor in (I suppose one can only do it in hindsight) are: one, Rua is 2-1 is in his last three fights although he is coming off a spectacular first round knock out of James Te Huna in last December’s UFC Fight Night in Australia; two, Rua is 6-7 in his last 13 fights and is definitely not as invincible as he once was; and three, Hendo is 17-8 when fighting overseas so the dude is used to hostile crowds, weird weather, and different time zones.
The match was hyped up as one where Rua was looking to even the score never mind if Henderson is a little over two years older from when they last met.
Nevertheless, 0-3 or not, it was definitely a more cautious Rua who answered the opening bell against Hendo. The Brazilian kept Hendo at bay with some powerful legs kicks. The American looked to have rocked the Brazilian when he backed him up against the fence with a hard right. But Rua answered with a two-punch combination that floored Henderson.
Despite being hurt and on the canvas, Hendo managed to prevent Rua from raining down unchallenged hammer fists that would prompt referee Herb Dean to put an end to the fight.
In the second round, Shogun once more sent Henderson down to the canvass but incredibly the American survived to fight another round.
It didn’t look too good for Hendo as it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Rua finally put him away.
After taking another flurry from Rua, the two were locked together. Just as Shogun broke the clinch, Hendo channeled Juan Manuel Marquez when he sent Manny Pacquiao to dreamland when he connected on a powerful right. Rua tumbled backwards and was clearly hurt. Henderson quickly pounced on him, threw some hammer strikes then looked up at Herb Dean. “Aren’t you going to stop it yet?” he must have asked the referee as Rua was defenseless. Dean didn’t respond and Henderson pounded on. Then Dean pulled Hendo away. If anyone thought that Rua still had some fight in him that was quickly dashed when the Brazilian tried to get up but had spaghetti legs. He was bleeding from a broken nose. Hendo had opened a spigot.
This was one literally where you had to hold the press. If anyone was preparing any copy to honor Henderson’s storied career then he would have to change it for there’s one more chapter left to right.
Both Henderson and Rua needed to win to save their careers. Hendo might have staved off retirement but as a fan, I have to ask, “What else it there to prove? You’ve got the win and why not go out on your terms?”
But from all indications, it looks like Dan is still intent to keep it going until the train comes to a stop.
And suddenly I remembered what Michael Jordan said when he came out of retirement to play for the Washington Wizards. Many said, you had the perfect ending in Utah. Why risk changing the ending?”
Jordan’s answer was an unequivocal, “That’s for you to write and worry about. This is for the love of the game.”
I’m still a Hendo fan. I’m here for the ride.
But I have to admit that I’ll be crossing my fingers.